One of the longest running controversies on eBay has been that over auction sniping. For those who aren’t exactly sure what hunting a mythical creature has to do with bidding in online auctions here’s a definition I pulled from somewhere (sorry, can’t remember where)-
Sniping is the common practice of bidding on an auction by waiting until the last possible moment, then placing one bid in such a manner that other bidders do not have time to respond. The exact time at which a bid becomes a snipe has never, and probably can never, be precisely defined. I’ve heard anywhere from 3 seconds to 24 hours. Most of the sniper purists define a snipe as any bid under the 10-second mark, while most of the anti-snipers tend to be evenly split between defining it at 5 minutes or 10 minutes, although 1 hour is also popular.
Personal disclosure- I’m an on-again, off-again sniper myself. Over the 12 plus years I’ve been buying and selling miscellaneous garbage on eBay I’ve probably sniped about 25% of my total bids. I’ve been a committed manual sniper, steadfastly refreshing the auction screen in the last 60 seconds or so of n auction; and I’ve also used a number of automated sniping programs both downloaded and web-based. I can honestly say I’ve won auctions with a greater consistency (and at overall lower prices) with sniping then otherwise.
Here’s my latest proof. Over the last few months I’ve been primarily bidding in two arenas: Sambo’s Wooden Nickels and Metal Typer Tokens. Neither of these types of items has many other bidders interested in them. The Sambo’s wooden nickels have about a half-dozen regular bidders and they aren’t always bidding on each nickel posted. Competition is actually heating up in this area as the screenshot, above, shows. There were only four bidders on this lot of wooden nickels, yet 15 bids were cast. It’s the last few bids that I really want to focus on here.
When I returned home last night I realized this listing was going to close well before I awoke this morning. So, I checked out the current bids and decided on what I thought was both a fair and competitive price. At 11:32 I entered a bid of $13.05 – more than double the high bid at the time. When I did so the former high bidder got an email saying he’d been outbid and, as you can clearly see, came and re-bid. Not once, but five times. All this accomplished was pushing my bid higher and higher. Frustrated, tired, and fully aware that my opponent was currently keeping an eye on this listing I resorted to an online sniping service and set it to place an $18.05 bid in the closing seconds of the auction.
End result – I won the lot for $17.00. However, if I had not placed my 11:32 bid and instead gone directly to the sniping software I would have won the lot for $6.75. In other words, my failure to snipe cost me $11.25, or nearly twice as much. The only person happy about this result is the seller. He made almost three times more for his lot then he would have had I simply sniped in the first place.